Know the signs of swimmer’s distress

For those with children on swim teams, summer started before school had ended, with the onset of afternoon swim

practices. We are so fortunate that water plays such a positive role across the metro area. Generously splashed about are community pools, we’re saturated with lakes, Georgia’s coastal waters are only a few hours away, and the Chattahoochee River is within everyone’s reach.

Most public and community pools are supervised by lifeguards, so we feel able to let our guard down, knowing there are knowledgeable eyes watching over us, able to sprint into action and rescue us, should the need arise.

Swim “at your own risk” hours allow us more time to avail ourselves pool privileges, but are absent the safety net of a lifeguard. And many other recreational favorites expect us to look out for our own and each other. But do we really know what to look for when someone is in trouble in the water?

Swimmers in distress don’t always give us Hollywood’s version of what a call for help looks like. Yes, a swimmer yelling for help, waving their arms and thrashing about is certainly a direct signal for immediate assistance, but not always.

A drowning in progress is often silent, with only the small physical movement of what appears to be slowly treading water, if that, because of what is known as the Instinctive Drowning Response, so named by water safety expert, Francisco A. Pia, Ph.D. Physiologically, nature forces active drowning victims to take care of breathing before any kind of speech or voluntary arm movement can take place.

Lifeguards are trained to recognize and react to this. I spoke with Morris Barclay of USA Pools in Roswell, and although he had no statistics on how many people his guards have saved over the thirty years they’ve been in business, all of their lifeguards are trained and certified by The American Red Cross to recognize the various distress signs. The American Red Cross Lifeguarding Manual details the several types of potential drowning victims and the behaviors they may display.

In addition to distressed swimmers who may be able to call out or wave for help, there are active and passive drowning victims who cannot, and all of us who spend time on the water should realize that, so we can react accordingly and


Listen for quiet children; don’t assume that a swimmer in distress is just joking around; if someone is missing, check the water first; reach or throw something they can grab, but don’t go in yourself; call 911; administer first aid and CPR.

Alcohol and heat contribute to making us more fatigued under the sun and in the water, such that even strong, life-long swimmers can be compromised in conditions that are part of any day of recreation and relaxation. Going for a swim

will not sober up an intoxicated person, nor will it refresh someone dehydrated, rather there is greater risk of slipping into danger.

Vicki Griffin has lived in Roswell for 22 years. You can reach her at

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